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The fight to become Paris's next mayor has begun

Christophe Petit Tesson, AFP | Paris's Mayor Anne Hidalgo in Paris on January 30, 2018.

The Paris municipal election – the French capital’s top political job – is two years away, but as the current mayor Anne Hidalgo becomes increasingly unpopular, rivals for the city hall are already gearing up for battle.

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When Anne Hidalgo swept to power in the 2014 Paris mayoral race, she vowed to make the city centre attractive to live for all. Four years on, the Spanish-born socialist, whose style has been described as "iron fist in a velvet glove", has become a divisive figure among many Parisians and across party lines.

58 percent of Parisians are 'unhappy' with Hidalgo

Her moves to cut air pollution, which has seen cars banned on some banks of the Seine and plans to ban all petrol and diesel-fuelled cars from the city centre by 2020, have drawn fierce criticism. A number of recent mishaps, including a bungled attempt to replace the city’s rental bike fleet by a new provider, and an invasion of rats in the capital, have made her popularity ratings plunge. According to a recent Ifop poll, 58 percent of Parisians are “unhappy” with Hidalgo and only 29 percent percent of them would vote for her as Paris mayor today.

“If she doesn’t come back up again before the end of the year, it’s over,” people close to Hidalgo told the Journal du Dimanche (JDD). “Panic has gripped Paris city hall. Anne Hidalgo is not only unpopular in the capital for her political choices but also for her authoritarian attitude,” the Sunday newspaper wrote. “Two years before the municipal elections, alarm bells are ringing.”

Rumours are flying around

Fanned by Hidalgo’s current unpopularity, rumours of potential candidates for the coveted 2020 mayoral seat are flying around the corridors of the city hall. Among them is Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, although his party and he himself deny it.

"[Édouard Philippe] will need a way out after he leaves the government,” sources close to Hidalgo told Le Parisien. “He’s got a good profile for the job. That would make things difficult for her.”

Other politicians are open about their ambitions. Socialist Ségolène Royal, a former environment minister who lost the French presidency to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, is making noises. “I might think about it, but only if Anne Hidalgo doesn’t go for it,” Royal is recently reported to have said, according to Le Parisien.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux, is also coveting the prestigious post. The 40-year-old, who is one of Emmanuel Macron’s closest political allies, was projected election winner in the recent Ifop poll. He recently criticised Hidalgo’s plan to make all public transport in the city free for Parisians, and suggested that the ruling party, Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM), would not necessarily support Anne Hidalgo’s recent offer to join hands with LREM in the 2020 election.

Some names for mayoral candidates emerging on the right of the political spectrum are Paris MPs Pierre-Yves Bournazel, Rachida Dati, once minister for Nicolas Sarkozy, and vice-president of France’s National Assembly Hugues Renson.

On the left, David Belliard, co-chair of the Green party at the Paris City Council, and Paris City councillor Danielle Simonnet, from the far-left party ‘La France Insoumise’, could be possible candidates, the JDD reported.

A bruising race

Others are doubtlessly still weighing up the risks and benefits of launching into the race. The battle for Paris has left many bruised in the past. Disgraced presidential hopeful and former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former socialist minister Jack Lang,Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who was defeated by Hidalgo in the 2014 mayoral race, and Philippe Séguin, a major figure of the French political right who quit politics shortly after losing the election in 2001, are among a number of French political heavyweights who failed the contest.

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